RoamAD unveils wide-area 802.11b wireless net

A New Zealand company has unveiled software that can turn 802.11b wireless LANs, with a reach of about 100 feet, into an always-on wireless mesh that can blanket hundreds of square kilomters.

That means corporate users won't have to connect directly to a nearby, line-of-sight wireless LAN hotspot. Instead, using any 802.11b interface card, they can access the Internet, corporate nets, or the public switched telephone network from any location, just as they do today with cell phones.

The technology has been deployed since May over a 3-square-kilomoter section of downtown Auckland, New Zealand.

But don't expect wireless LAN speeds. The company, RoamAD, promises that users will have bit rates "of anything up to 330K bit/sec." That's a far cry from 802.11b wireless LANs which typically run in the 5M to 7M bit/sec range. But the RoamAD network speeds compare well with current and emerging cellular technology. The expanding 2.5G networks have a maximum data rate of 114K bit/sec; 3G nets are expected to deliver 64K to 384K bit/sec rates.

But if RoamAD's technology pans out, it will deliver speeds comparable to 3G, but at only a fraction of the cost. And the RoamAD software can work with existing 802.11b devices, both access points and interface cards, in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz range.

Currently, 802.11b hotspots, which are wireless LAN access points installed in a café, hotel, airport, or city hall, are proliferating. But the problem has been the short range of the 2.4 GHz radio, which in large part is what makes a wireless LAN truly "local."

Some service providers are trying a brute force approach: physically deploying their own branded access points, and then linking them into the existing switched telephone network. Another approach, used by Joltag and Boingo, is to form sharing agreements among many small hotspot vendors, or even individual businesses and homeusers, drawing these isolated wireless LANs into a much larger network.

RoamAD engineers have spent several years crafting a set of algorithms to improve 11b's ability to offer secure, interference-free, scalable wireless nets, that didn't depend on either line-of-sight, or on terrestrial backhaul networks. The company claims that its software can now extend 11b over hundreds of square kilometers, works with all 11b equipment, and doesn't interfere with existing users in the 2.4 GHz band.

Users within the coverage area can roam seamlessly between points of preseence, the company claims. The RoamAD software has been designed to work with a range of encryption protocols and authentication systems to create secure connections.

RoamAD was founded in 2001 and is funded in part by a New Zealand venture fund, Solomon Capital Partners Limited. Solomon partner Martyn Levy is RoamAD's founder and chairman. Paul Stoddart is the CEO.

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